This piece originally appeared at The Baltimore Sun
For years, Anthony Gay resorted to self-mutilation just to experience short spurts of caring human interaction. His tragic story, chronicled this month in the Chicago Tribune, of spending 22 years in solitary confinement is a clear warning to us all of its insanity-inducing effects. Solitary confinement is linked to the formation and aggravation of serious mental illness, and it acts as a catalyst for the development of new forms of psychiatric disorders.
The question legislators in Annapolis must consider is this: If we understand the mental health implications of solitary confinement on adults, why would we subject the developing minds of Maryland's children to this potentially irreparable torture?
In Maryland, the practice of solitary confinement is known as “restrictive housing.” It involves locking individuals in a cell, colloquially referred to as “the hole,” without meaningful human contact for upward of 22 hours a day. Shamefully, this practice continues in our state, despite perennial efforts to curb it, for both adults and children.
Research from the American Psychological Association shows that the brain continues to develop in neurological, cognitive and emotional domains late into adolescence. Placing a child in solitary can increase the risk of self-mutilation, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, paranoia and aggression.
Without a doubt, if a parent subjected a child to this treatment, the child would be removed from the home and the parent would be charged with child abuse. Why then would this abusive practice remain sanctioned in our corrections facilities?